Reviewing South Park: The Stick of Truth on a family-friendly site was always going to be a tough proposition. We may have to break a long-standing site rule or two here in order to describe the content and get our point across. After all, it doesn’t matter how much of an accomplished wordsmith you are, you can’t describe your character being anally probed by aliens without using the words “anal” or “probe.”
It has to be borne in mind though that In Europe, the game goes so far that it has fallen foul of the censors. Several scenes have been cut from the EU edition of the game in order for it to qualify for its PEGI 18 rating. When these scenes are due to play out, a still image appears in place of the offending scene, complete with a bit of elevator music and a textual explanation by South Park’s creators - Matt Stone and Trey Parker - explaining what would have been shown on screen were it not for the censors. Given the explanations, we’re not sure why the scenes in question were cut, given that other scenes in the game which are arguably in poorer taste manage to survive intact. Fortunately, the knife doesn’t cut so deep as to affect what is a fantastic attempt at bringing the South Park world into videogames.
We’re flat out surprised that this is the case, if the truth is known. After the game was cast off into the development wasteland following the collapse of THQ, and after the game’s official release date was pushed back time and time again as a result, we were relatively sure that this would end up as a bit of a stinker. Not so. In fact, The Stick of Truth almost – almost, mind you – makes up for the atrocious South Park N64 title, the bizarre Chef’s Luv Shack, and the absolutely horrendous South Park Rally all in one fell swoop.
The game is a straight-up RPG set in South Park (with a fleeting visit to a beautifully imagined 16-bit version of Canada) where you play as “New Kid” who is – as the name would suggest - the newest resident of the area. Initially joining Cartman and the ever-lovable Butters in defending The Stick of Truth, you’ll run into pretty much every major character (and a stack of minor ones) that have appeared on screen in the series as you explore the game world. Even Al Gore shows up for a side quest or two – he’s totally “cereal” about the whole thing – and there are 30 “Chinpokomon” dotted around that need to be collected, too. Indeed, the developers have gone to the well of references and characters and created a believable – in South Park terms, we mean – game world that will satisfy fans of the series.
But what of the game? Well, we’re looking at mild puzzling combined with some great comedy and turn-based battles that sometimes contain mild action elements. Action-wise, you’ll be asked to press the A button with sharp timing in order to defend attacks, or will be prompted to press a random button in QTE-style events when carrying out stronger shots yourself. Aside from that, this is a surprisingly deep RPG that can be played a million different ways. The outcome of battles can be changed by the billions of costume and weaponry combinations that can be put together, or which of the South Park characters you choose to bring into battle with you. You can only have one fighting with you at a time, but they can be switched out at the cost of a turn. Clothes can have patches applied which affect your stats or provide various buffs, and weapons can have – ahem – “strap-ons” attached which do similar. Outside of that, you can bring all manner of potions into play, as well as improvable character-specific abilities, and the ability to use (oh boy, this is where it gets tricky…) various types of backdoor gas-passing acrobatics against your foes, too.
As you’d expect, your choice of character class – you can play as a wizard, thief, fighter, or Jew – affects your stat loadout as well. All of this combines to make a considerably more heavy experience than you’d imagine a game based on something as mainstream and silly as South Park to provide.
But The Stick of Truth must be used to shed some light on a few problems that have reared their head. Even after the early release of a “day one” patch, we experienced a couple of disturbing lockups. One battle against a group of Nazi zombies (which are brilliantly voiced by fuzzy recordings of Hitler himself) froze our review console every time we took out the boss first. Beating the minions before attacking the boss seemed to be the only way around. We’re hearing problems of issues with certain things not triggering correctly when progressing through the story arc, leaving players stuck and without any option but starting the game from scratch, but we can’t say that we suffered any such problem. Our advice would be to save manually, and save often, just in case.
If you avoid technical snafus such as this, then South Park: The Stick of Truth is an excellent attempt at bringing Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny and the other familiar faces across the interactive bridge and into the world of video games. We got through the main story (and a few side quests, though not all of them, by any means) in a shade under 12 hours. Once complete, you’re free to wander through South Park in order to tidy up those quests that you didn’t beat on your route through the main arc. Some will say that 12 hours isn’t particularly very much for a modern-day open-world RPG of this kind, but when you consider that you’ll be belly-laughing all the way through, that truly can be forgiven. The story isn’t particularly complex – no more than a standard episode of the show, in fact – and the missions on offer are very much a case of “go here, get this, take it here, win a battle” over and over, but the comedy, charm, and sheer quality of the experience – barring technical glitches, of course - is what keeps you playing, and doing so happily.
Fans of the show should be going after The Stick of Truth without even thinking twice. Gamers who fancy a diversion from the super-serious RPGs and shooters that fill the shelves at the moment would be well advised to give it a spin, too. Obsidian have done extremely well under intense pressure to create a generally solid game and bring it to market, and should be applauded. As should we, given that the game contains a million and one swear words and we didn’t let our halos so much as slip during the course of this review. Hell yeah!